Democrat Ned Lamont Pledges To Unify State As Governor

AP
November 08, 2018 - 8:48 am

Photo by Patrick Raycraft/Hartford Courant/TNS/Sipa USA

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Democratic businessman Ned Lamont, the winner of Connecticut's tight race for governor, pledged Wednesday to unify a state where nearly half of voters backed a Republican endorsed by President Donald Trump who called for a massive tax cut.

The one-time cable TV company founder promised to be a politically inclusive leader, someone who will work with both organized labor and business, as well as with Democrats, Republicans and independents.

"I've got to bring people together, to make sure this is a state that hangs together going forward, making the decisions we need to get this state growing again," Lamont told supporters who gathered at Hartford's Dunkin Donuts Park the day after Election Day. After Republican Bob Stefanowski called him Wednesday morning to concede the race, Lamont said he spoke with Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly, telling them "my door is open and any good idea, let's go with it."

Lamont has already begun forming a business advisory council and plans to announce a transition team later in the week.

Election results show the state is divided. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Lamont received 49 percent of the vote, while Stefanowski garnered 47 percent. Independent Oz Griebel won 4 percent. In January, Lamont will fill the job being vacated by two-term Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has had strained relations at times with state lawmakers from both parties and suffers from low public approval ratings. He'll also take on an electorate frustrated by successive years of budget deficits and fiscal challenges.

But Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven dismissed some of those concerns Wednesday, pointing to large Democratic gains in the General Assembly.

Looney said it appeared that Democrats will now control 24 seats in the 36-member Senate, which has had an even split of 18-to-18 with Republicans. In the House of Representatives, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said it appeared Democrats will now control 92 of the 151 seats, compared to the current 80 seats.

"We take that as a mandate of the (Democrats') policies," he said, adding how he looks forward to working with Lamont on a phased-in $15 an hour minimum wage, "changes in tax policy," tolls on tractor trailers and possibly other vehicles, and a statewide car tax plan that would replace the current system of town-by-town taxes.

While disappointed with the election outcome, Stefanowski, a former General Electric and UBS Investment Bank executive, said he was pleased with his campaign's success in drawing attention to the tax burden in the state. He repeatedly called for the eventual elimination of the personal income tax and the end to various other state taxes, saying it was the only way to jumpstart Connecticut's economy. Lamont warned such a move would decimate state services.

Stefanowski also focused much of the campaign accusing Lamont of supporting the continuation of Malloy's policies, a move Malloy called "stupid" on Wednesday.

"Whoever had the idea that you should run against someone who is leaving, and that was your sole strategy for winning, didn't really think it out too well, quite frankly," he said. "If that person was paid money, they should have to repay it."

Lamont's win completed a Democratic sweep of the top offices on the ballot in Connecticut, including the re-election of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Once again, there are five Democrats representing the state in the U.S. House, including a newcomer, former national teacher of the year Jahana Hayes.

During the campaign, Lamont painted Stefanowski and Trump as threats to everything from public education to the rights of organized labor and women.

"I see all that stuff coming out of Washington, D.C.," Lamont recently told a group of retired teachers. "I just want you to know that a governor can be a firewall there."

Wednesday's victory marked Lamont's first major electoral win. He lost the 2010 Democratic primary for governor to Malloy, who did not seek a third term in office. But Lamont is better known for defeating U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary, embodying voter opposition to the war in Iraq. Lamont ultimately lost the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent.